Damages Under FELA

By John Magnuson

Damages refers to the losses suffered by an injured employee as a result of an on-the-job injury. Under the FELA, a railroad employee may recover money from the railroad as compensation for these losses. Damages may be divided into two categories: economic losses and non-economic losses. Economic losses are those more easily measured in dollars. The biggest component usually is lost wages. It also includes lost benefits and cost of replacement services. (Medical bills can be such a loss, but are usually fully covered by insurance for job-related injuries.) Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, and the loss of enjoyment of life. This article will explore some aspects of damages.

At YJB, we work closely with our clients to help identify and prove both economic and non-economic damages. This includes meeting with doctors to learn the nature and extent of injury, calculating all out-of-pocket losses like wage loss and medical expenses, and assessing the injured party’s changed lifestyle both vocationally and recreationally. We recognize that these losses are significant and unique to each individual and each family.

Unlike state worker’s compensation laws which, by and large, provide only a small portion of a worker’s wages as compensation, the FELA provides for recovery of the injured railroad worker’s entire range of losses. This better ensures a full recovery for all the losses experienced by an injured railroad worker. In many ways it is the best law in the land for injured workers. Experienced FELA counsel are best at maximizing full recovery for injured employees and their families.

In addition to past and future wage losses, economic losses include loss of benefits such as health and dental insurance. These benefits can add up to a very substantial sum of money over the course of just a few years. It is important to factor these into any claim. Another type of economic loss is replacement services. A severely injured worker may not be able to do normal home maintenance such as painting or lawn mowing and these must be taken care of by hired help. Future medical expenses must also be explored as economic losses.

Non-economic losses are sometimes referred to simply as “pain and suffering”. These damages are more difficult to put a value on than those discussed above. Our courts recognize that jurors can take into account their own common sense and experiences in evaluating what pain and suffering might be worth for a back surgery or the loss of a leg, for example. In addition to the physical pain and suffering, injured workers suffer a psychological loss sometimes referred to as the loss of enjoyment of life. A serious injury may prevent a railroad worker from being able to play with and fully nurture his or her children. It may end the ability to enjoy recreation such as waterskiing or hunting and fishing. All of these losses are significant and are compensable under the FELA.

At YJB, we carefully monitor settlements and jury verdicts from around the country to help evaluate cases. One of the benefits of the FELA is that damages are tied to the specific loss a given individual has suffered. Accordingly, it is important to look very closely at that individual’s personal lifestyle before an accident and after it in order to evaluate the case.

Any damage award can be reduced by the amount of contributory negligence, if any, attributed to an injured person. If a railroad employee is found to be 25 percent at fault for their injury, the total damages are calculated and then reduced 25 percent. For example, if we assume the total damages in a case are $100,000, a 25% reduction would result in a final award of $75,000. We work diligently to counter any contributory negligence argument by the railroad, thus ensuring a larger settlement for the injured railroaders.

In event of a death, the spouse and family members are entitled to award for the pecuniary losses that they have suffered as well as for any pain and suffering the individual faced up until the time of death. Pecuniary is a legal term referring to measurable dollar losses. These include the amount of money that the deceased worker would have contributed to the family through the course of life had it continued. It also includes the value of aid, comfort and counseling to minor children. These are very special damages and often require significant expertise to ensure the family is fairly provided for.

Because the death of a loved one through a work-related railroad accident is so devastating, it is especially important for the surviving spouse to seek immediate guidance from a FELA attorney. Railroads can and will take every advantage possible even at such times.

In all FELA cases, it is very important to get high quality legal advice early on to be sure that all appropriate damages are fully calculated. If you have any questions about damage issues in FELA cases, please feel free to call YJB and we would be pleased to discuss them with you.

The FELA lawyers of Yaeger & Jungbauer Barristers, PLC invite you to contact their office for further discussion of this topic. This article is designed for general information only and should be considered neither formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer client relationship.